Understanding Twenty-First Century Militant Anti-Fascism: An Analytical Framework and Matrix

Militant anti-fascism, the most radical type of anti-fascist activity, has a long history across Europe and the United States, stretching back to the 1920s. Its guiding principle is that physical opposition to fascism – direct confrontation – is necessary, effective and justified. Militant anti-fascism sits within the field of the radical autonomous Left, with a repertoire of extra-parliamentary intervention characterised by contentious forms of direct action, civil disobedience, protest demonstrations, cultural/counter-cultural activities and increasingly, cyber-activism. In the twenty-first century, this activism finds expression under the international (colloquial) banner of “ANTIFA”, organising in decentralised, grassroots networks of geographically dispersed local groups.

Anti-fascist militancy has existed for as long as fascism has, but as a form of contentious politics, militant anti-fascism is still largely neglected across both academic and policy-practitioner communities. Since the societal conditions behind the current right-wing populist surge are unlikely to disappear anytime soon, there is pressing need for research that addresses the security implications of radical extra-parliamentary groups who hold that violent confrontation is essential to effective anti-fascist opposition.

This year-long project comprises a concentrated piece of original research. It involves a methodologically innovative study of six selected local case studies in the United States and Britain. A multi-method approach will combine activist interviews with qualitative study of online participatory media and social networking. Cross-disciplinary, this project draws from social movement studies, digital sociology, criminology, politics and contemporary history.

The project’s key research questions are:

  1. How do locally based militant anti-fascist groups organise beyond their locality, disseminate ideas across borders, and shape understandings of fascism as a global issue of pressing concern?
  2. What is the role of ‘political crises’ in the process of militant anti-fascist radicalisation?
  3. What is the role of reciprocal radicalisation in the escalation of anti-fascist violence?

Answering these questions will provide the evidence base for a theoretical matrix – a set of conditions at individual, group, and society-level from which anti-fascist radicalisation is more or less likely to emerge. This project will therefore extensively enhance our understanding of twenty-first century militant anti-fascism as a form of “Violent Domestic Extremism”.

Principal Investigator

Nigel Copsey

Institution

Teesside University

Umeå University, Sweden

People

Samuel Merrill